Drought Causes a Cow/Calf Producer to Adapt

Brought to you by Great Plains Livestock Consulting Inc.
With little rainfall and high temperatures in areas of the Midwest and High Plains, cattle producers are faced with limited pasture for grazing, as well as low hay inventories.  If pasture supply is short and there is nowhere else to go with the cattle, then creep feeding could be an option to maintain normal calf growth.  It is a common misperception that creep feeding reduces the cow’s energy requirement for lactation.  Research has shown that a calf will nurse the same amount whether offered creep feed or not.  One of the best reasons for creep feeding in times like this is that it lets a producer train the light calf to come to the bunk to eat.  Training calves to a bunk will set them up for an easier transition if the need arises to early wean those calves. 

It may be necessary to early wean calves in a drought situation.  When forage supply is gone, ponds dry up, and cows are losing condition, one should take measures to salvage not only this year’s calf crop, but next year’s as well.  A thin cow will not breed back well, if at all.  If a cow hasn’t been bred within 42 days after bull turn out, she will be losing money.  Early weaning calves is not an easy job, so resources need to be evaluated.  It requires additional labor, facilities and feed resources.  Since lactation pressure increases the energy and protein requirement for a typical beef cow, it might be necessary to give her a break this year and still put some weight on the calves by getting them on feed.

One of the biggest considerations for an early weaning program for calves is the ration.  Feeds that are low in protein and available energy (that are sometimes cheaper) will not do a good job at starting early weaned calves and keeping them going.  Instead, the ration needs to be higher in protein (16-18% crude protein, DM basis), and moderate in safe, fermentable feeds.  By-products like DDG, soy hulls, wheat midds and corn gluten feed work very well in this situation, whereas rations high in corn should be used much more cautiously because they tend to be overfed, leading to metabolic issues and health problems in the calf.  Contact us at Great Plains Livestock Consulting so we can help you determine the best way to implement a plan for your operation.